Governance that is beyond government: Participatory citizenship

Governance that is beyond government: Participatory citizenship 1
Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

The tripartite Governance framework as applied in running governments has called in contributions from all sectors, ranging from government agencies, business enterprises and civil sector. This kind of governing has made a government principle – citizen participation – to rise to the challenge of good governance. Through the employment of participatory citizenship, governments are able to gain new inputs, extract new data from the grassroots, and implement policies, programs and projects that are more aligned with citizens’ needs.

 Modern Public Administration has institutionalized contemporary schools of thought and of praxis that defined how governments are perceived and run. There are the New Public Administration, New Public Management, Reinventing Government, Business Process Reengineering, and Governance. What makes Governance set apart from the previous ones is the breadth and magnitude of its scope – it employs a tripartite stance, and thus, embraces all stakeholders in the society, namely, government, business groups, and civil sector. It is therefore a form of governing that goes beyond government.

 UNDP (1997) describes governance as “the exercise of political, economic and administrative authority to manage a nation’s affairs. It embraces all of the methods – good and bad – that societies use to distribute power and manage public resources and problems (UNDP, 1997:9)”. By being open to all methods and sectors that it poses a challenge to government. Running a government then takes it transit from being government-centered to being multi-sectoral. Other sectors of society, specifically the private and the civil society organizations (CSOs), transform to major players in governing societies.

 Governance was born in response to the people power revolutions that transpired all over the world. This was also prompted by major international institutions and organizations, such as the United Nations, World Bank and Asian Development Bank, in order for societies to respond to the needs of then social milieu (Brillantes & Fernandez, 2008). Throughout the years that followed, governance has become the core of developmental goals and objectives.

 One of the principles of good governance set by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is citizen participation. This subject began to formally take shape in the 1960s and in the 70s; however, this concept takes its roots back to olden times during the time of Athenian polis whereby direct democracy was practiced (Reyes, undated). As defined by the United Nations, citizen participation “implies the involvement of citizens in a wide range of policymaking activities, including the determination of levels of service, budget priorities, and the acceptability of physical construction projects in order to orient government programs toward community needs, build public support, and encourage a sense of cohesiveness within neighborhoods…” It thus entails opening of the door to the public so that ordinary citizens could get involved in government processes, and, in the process of doing so, that they may exert an influence in these, paving the way to creating greater social impact. It is a process whereby the members of the society who do not have any position in the government can be part of the decision-making alongside with public officials. In making this happen, the result is that the public concerns and needs are clearly threshed out, undertaking a bottom-up approach in governance. In the end, citizen participation becomes advantageous not only to the citizens but to the government officials as well as it facilitates their work, receiving concrete inputs from the grassroots level.

 The form of participation is broad and takes many forms. The International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) lays down the spectrum on citizen participation from the most passive to most active degree namely informing, consulting, involving, collaborating, and empowering. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) also came up with a similar framework, classifying the citizen participation into three, namely information, consultation, and active participation. Concrete examples include giving feedback to government, being heard, providing suggestions, being engaged in some government processes, determining acceptability of projects, having an influence in the decision-making results, and even having the honor to be co-producer of policies and projects. The engagement reflects the institutional measures and arrangements that can be done to widen the influence of the public on public processes and outputs.

 In the latest global review of government innovations (2017) produced by the OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI), in partnership with the government of United Arab Emirates and its Mohammed Bin Rashid Centre for Government Innovation, the study has determined outstanding innovations on citizen participation. One example is The Agents of Open Government program of São Paulo government whereby citizens could teach courses to government officials. This initiative was founded to address the lack of systematic approach in sharing knowledge. Many crucial tools such as social media communications and mapping technologies are not found to be in sufficient presence outside the city center. To address this gap, the government tapped the capable citizens to teach courses that bring about new knowledge and skills to the public servants, who would be servicing the public. Another example that is cited is Finland’s Kokeilun Paikka (Place to Experiment), a method to seek innovations in relation to delivering public services. It includes a crowdsourcing method in gathering innovations. It serves as a platform to connect reformers and government, and vice versa. These are just two examples of the many ongoing projects happening in the entire world addressing participatory citizenship.

 Although citizen participation projects have reaped a relatively good feedback, there are criticisms along the way. Nabatchi (2012), for instance, argues that citizen participation is much better in writing, but in reality, it tends to be “malleable and chaotic”, having many instances of revising the process of citizen participation along the way. In the process, the intended goals are abandoned. Reyes (undated) also observes that oftentimes the citizen component in government processes are only able to bring light to the needed reforms in the government but still fail to institutionalize them.

 In general, attempts to inject citizen participation in government processes have resulted in positive results within the ambit of good governance. Through these, the client of the government, which is the public, gets to have their say on how they should want their government to be managed. It is in this backdrop of good governance that any effort on promoting and preserving citizen participation is much needed.

 Other References (apart from those indicated in the hyperlinks):

  • Brillantes, A. & Fernandez, M. (2008). Is there a Philippine Public Administration? Or Better Still, For Whom is Philippine Public Administration? Public Colloquium on “Is there a Philippine Public Administration: A Timeless Issue?” UP NCPAG.
  • Reyes, D. (undated). A lecture on Citizen Participation and Public Sector Reform: Is Collaborative Governance the Answer? UP NCPAG.
  • UN Economic and Social Council. (2006). Definition of Basic Concepts and Terminologies in Governance and Public Administration. Committee of Experts on Public Administration: 5th Session. New York: UN.
  • United Nations Development Porgramme (1997). Reconceptualizing Governance. Discussion Paper Series No. 2 New York.
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